In its submission to the review, Universities UK said that, while the system in England had not deterred young people from full-time study – and has provided sustained and stable funding for higher education – there is a lack of public confidence and understanding of how it delivers value for money for students.
The submission states also that the current system has not helped those who wish to study more flexibly, and for whom full-time study is not the preferred option. These include mature learners seeking to study later in life or retrain, or young learners who prefer to earn while they study. It calls also for the review to address students' concerns about living costs and fears of debt, recommending the restoration of maintenance grants for those most in need and changing the way interest is applied to student loans.
government should, in partnership with universities, provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education
universities could develop their value for money statements, to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. These should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees, and other sources of income, to fund the student experience and other activities such as research
to deal with students' concerns about living costs, new funding should be introduced to restore maintenance grants for those most in need
to help address students' fears of debt, government should remove the interest rate that starts building from the start date of the course, and deliver better financial advice, especially on the difference between student loan debt and conventional debt
greater exploration of ways that learners can study more flexibly and piloting preferential loan repayment terms for subjects that address national skills shortages
Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said: "While the current funding system in England has delivered benefits, it could be better understood and feel fairer to students. While students understand the general long-term, financial benefit of entering higher education, they are much less certain about how tuition fees and student loans are linked to the costs of different courses.
"Working with universities, government should provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education. We need to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at and how income from tuition fees, and other income, is spent to provide world-class higher education.
"Universities UK recommends also the reintroduction of government maintenance grants, targeted to those students who need them the most. The government's switch in England from maintenance grants to loans had a more significant impact on those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, who need to take out higher loans for living costs and so have higher lifetime loan repayments. Universities UK is recommending also that more favourable loan repayment terms could be introduced for graduates pursuing careers and professions where there is evidence of a prolonged skills shortage.
"The review must look also at the need for greater support for those who wish to study more flexibly, and for whom full-time study is not the preferred option."
The deadline for submissions to the government's review of post-18 education funding in England was 2 May 2018. Universities UK's submission is available in full on the Universities UK website.
Universities UK launched, earlier this year, a new project to look at whether higher education can introduce more flexible ways of learning to meet the changing needs of students and employers. Following the shift in 2012 in England to a tuition fee cap of £9,000, there has been a drop of around one third in the number of part-time student enrolments across the UK. The Universities UK project will look at which individuals and sectors have been most affected by this fall. It will look also at which employers and sectors are in greatest future need of high-level skills. And which would benefit most from recruiting graduates who have gained their higher education qualification through flexible learning. The employer perspective will be delivered in partnership with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The project will gather evidence, produce a range of outputs and develop policy recommendations by summer 2018.